Saturday, December 29, 2012


Last year, I noticed that columnists and pundits in December started reviewing the year that was rather than thinking about what was ahead.

I thought this was an exercise in futility. Like being the person you saw a film with, who then quotes the film back to you like you haven't seen it.

In response, I reviewed 2012 instead. That was in December 2011.

Now, before we start on 2013, how close was I with the 2012 review?

I'm not going to tell you. That would make me a hypocrite.

I do have all the answers and research on how close I was with my 2012 predictions, but I'll only share them if enough readers ask for it in the mailbag. (P.S. You can subscribe to the direct email version of this newsletter at Only subscribers receive the coveted 'Tales From the Opening Act' Mailbag)

So, now that we have survived the Mayan calendar scare, what can we expect in 2013?

2013 will be the year where big problems are solved...or...they won't be.

If no solutions are found, these big problems will turn into bigger problems.

I am, of course, referring to the US 'Fiscal Cliff'. Watch this space, because if the Americans can't get something sorted out, they will face huge automatic government spending cuts that will ripple throughout the world economy. Everyone, including the slowly recovering film industry (particularly the acquisition and film financing side), will feel the impact.

Luckily, or unluckily depending on your world view, this can be solved via political negotiations within the US. Hold your breath.

2013 will also be the year where the technology for online video streaming improves. There have been many reported problems with the quality/usability of the online streaming platforms, with customers 'switching off' if the platforms are not intuitive and reliable. This problem will be fixed in 2013, mostly as a result of the need for survival by the stronger platforms, given that more and more competitors are entering the market (e.g. Amazon and HBO). This can only be a good thing for consumers.

As a result, more of you will buy your music and movies online. I know some of you will shake your head at this, but the global data, showing big increases in online content purchasing, doesn't lie. For a quickly growing number of people, onlinepurchased content is the highest quality, safest and easiest way to get your movies, TV shows and music.

On that note, watch the online video wars really heat up in 2013. The battle for your hearts, minds and eyeballs is coming. Netflix, the American video streaming provider is expanding worldwide and even commissioning a new series of the hit show 'Arrested Development' so that it has exclusive rights to show it. But rest assured, the other big hitters (Disney, Apple, Amazon, HBO) all want a piece of their pie. The counter-strike will come, which again is only good news for consumers, who love content at a reasonable price.

Most surprisingly, 2013 could really be, and I can't believe I am saying this after watching 'Daredevil', the year that Ben Affleck wins his SECOND Oscar. It will be as a director, not an actor however, for his film 'Argo'.

While the hot favourites, if there is 5 nominations for Best Picture, are: 'Lincoln', 'Zero Dark Thirty', 'Argo', 'Les Miserables' and 'Silver Linings Playbook'; I think 'Life of Pi' will squeak in and pip 'Argo' for the Oscar.

As far as the biggest grossing film of 2013, it will be tough to predict given the number of franchises releasing new installments. 'The Hobbit 2: Desolation of Smaug', 'The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire', 'Iron Man 3', 'The Wolverine' and 'Thor 2: The Dark Worlds' are all being released in 2013. Based on two very good trailers, the big surprise could be 'The Man of Steel', the Superman reboot. If I had to bet at this stage, however, I would give it to the 'Hobbit 2', based on the size of their in-built audience and the record box office returns on the first installment this year.

I could go into the suggested declining relevance of film and the Oscars at this point, but I will save that for a later date, because I am not convinced. Save to say, a major debate in 2013 will be the fact that films deemed as 'successful' are drawing roughly 10% of the audience size of single episodes of major television shows like 'Breaking Bad'.

And then of course there is China. The worst kept secret in the world.

China is very near to an awakening of their middle class to mass consumer culture and content providers worldwide are literally drooling at the possibilities to sell movies to the Chinese. Watch for 2013 to be the first year of consistently large box office returns from China, flowing from the 2012 quota increase in foreign films allowed to be shown there.

In Australia, the National Broadband Network (NBN) will start to switch on in urban areas, finally delivering internet speeds that the Swedish have enjoyed for the last decade. Better late than never, I guess.

The NBN poses a paradox of enormous risks and possibilities for the Australian film industry. If we are not ready in 2013 with ways to deliver reasonably priced content to our audience, then they will turn to piracy and the NBN's high internet speeds will make that easier than ever. In that sense, 2013 will be an enormously important year to make sure that people form the habit of purchasing their content, rather than the tendency to steal it.

On the Australian awards circuit, look to 'The Sapphires' to sweep the Australian Academy awards in January. I'll be there, so I may be able to celebrate or eat my words in person.

So, what does this interesting and complicated picture of 2013 mean to you, exactly?

First, for everyone, it means this will be a tumultuous year. So question everything, even this newsletter.

The landscape has shifted so much, that there are less and less gurus in the world. That doesn't mean that there is less information and fact, however, so there is no excuse for you to be uninformed and have your opinion led by the whim of others.

We live in an information age.

Use the tools at your disposal and prosper. Or be apathetic and fail.

Second, for film and content makers, the paradigm shift is creating a new normal of ABUNDANCE. The world is becoming saturated with content, to the point where people can't keep up with the amount of film, television, music, theatre, books, etc; that are being released.

So, film and content makers must start to respect marketing. You must learn everything about it and be strategic with how you use it. You must think of marketing as a tool to find that audience who will love your work. Otherwise you are just shouting in a crowded room.

Third, film and content makers must cultivate an audience. Connect with your audience. Find out who they are. Communicate with them. An audience who looks forward to your work, and who promotes you through their enthusiasm for your art, deserve to be thanked and rewarded. Having them is the difference between releasing one movie, and a long term career.

And finally, know that, despite the economic despair on the news, there is plenty of money floating around the world and good quality content is being demanded at greater rates than ever before.

This huge demand is wonderful for filmmakers, content makers and audiences alike.

The removal of barriers between us, brought about by the rise of the internet, is having far-reaching social, political, economic and cultural consequences.

2013 will be a year that the dust settles on some of these changes, and the picture is slightly clearer for the years ahead.

But you have to stay active and informed, to benefit from these opportunities.

It is hard work, but the rewards can be substantial, financially and existentially.

It's a great time to be alive, at the cusp of something new.

Thank goodness the Mayans got it wrong.

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Monday, December 17, 2012


I have been struggling for the last couple of days.

I am a filmmaker who has depicted the death of a child in a film.

A little girl, aged six.

The film I produced, 'The Good Neighbour' is broadly about child abuse, after all. We needed to see the consequences to understand that doing nothing is not an option when it comes to child abuse.

The great thing about making a film is that the little girl can wake up at the end of the scene.

She goes about her life.

She interacts with her friends and family.

She has hopes and dreams.

In short, she has a future beyond her death on screen.

On some level I worry about the desensitising effect that my film may have on people.

I want the audience to wake up out of apathy, not fall further into it.

And the argument about mass violence has too often reared its head in the context of the impact of media violence on would-be killers. The Aurora Cinema killer was dressed up as the Joker, from Batman, when he shot and killed those 12 people in a cinema in Colorado, USA.

The film they were watching was The Dark Knight Rises.

I have younger brothers and sisters. Each one of them is absolutely precious to me.

I saw them in the faces of the children in Connecticut, USA.

20 children who will not go on with their lives.

They will not interact with their friends and family.

They will never achieve their hopes and dreams.

They have no future beyond their death on screen.

I broke down and cried.

How do we keep moving after something so awful?

I feel like the arts have a part to play. A method of expression and meaning in a world that can sometimes seem so cruel.

Somehow, we have to play our part in humanising the world. Economics and politics don't do this. The arts do.

There are few more powerful feelings than connecting with the humanity in a piece of art; be it music, film, literature, theatre, painting, sculpture, anything.

I still shed a tear at the end of 'The Good Neighbour' when the little girl dies.

For some reason I feel that this emotive power in art can be a part of the healing.

I hope so.

But that is the future.

For now all I can feel is grief for the innocent lives blinked out without reason.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012


It's funny how context and time changes things.

If you are in a doctor's office, or an inhabitant of Sub-Saharan Africa, the last words you want to hear are: "You have a viral hit".

If you are an internet marketer or a filmmaker trying to get word of their film out into the world, 'virality' is a big success.

The common thread between these negative and positive versions of "going viral" is that both are fairly dependent on luck.

Contemporary filmmakers often rely on the luck of social media, rather than marketing, to hope that they find an audience.

It is something I have noticed happening more and more frequently. A couple of weeks ago, I shared my radio interview with you where I mentioned that Australian Filmmakers' regular weakness was marketing.

My point was that, in a rapidly converging world, where Australian films will be up against international blockbusters in online catalogues, we need to respect marketing as a way to make Australian films stand out.

The challenge I see is that Australian filmmakers rely on social media to make up the difference when they have cut their marketing budget down to nothing.

By way of example, recently I was in contact with a pair of critically acclaimed Australian filmmakers who were about to release their latest feature film. These filmmakers wanted help raising awareness for the new film via social networks because they had little to no marketing budget. I spread the word as much as humanly possible, hoping for the best for them, but suspecting that they had a difficult road ahead. Sadly, despite the film winning major awards and, from all reports, receiving good reviews, at last check it has returned less than $50,000 at the box office.

The question all Australian filmmakers should be asking themselves at this point is: how can people see my film if they don't know it exists?

If your answer is 'virality' or social media, consider this...

Recent, very basic, case study analysis of social media has showed that, of your friends/followers on the social media platforms, approximately 30-40% are 'active' users of the social networking site (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc). 'Active' means using social networking every day.

So, your audience who are actually reading your regular Tweets or Facebook posts are far less than your actual number of followers.

Of your friends/followers, approximately 10-20% will be friends or followers of an excessively large group of people. On Twitter for example, one case study revealed that approximately 10% of followers also followed over 1000 other Twitter users.

The result of following large numbers of people on Twitter or Facebook is that individual Tweets or Facebook posts become a tiny drop in the ocean of information that user receives. This exponentially increases the chance that your Tweet or Facebook post will go unseen by that individual.

So, if you are expecting to use social media to plug the gaping whole in your marketing budget, think again.

Also, keep in mind that the Americans, in particular, go WAY overboard in their attempts to turn their films into viral hits. They are your competition in this area, and they are formidable.

To prove the point, I give you 'The Dark Knight Rises'. This film earned a mammoth $1.08 billion worldwide at the box office. What you may not have known, however, is that the film had an extensive viral marketing campaign in the lead up to the film's release.

Do you think no-one would have heard of the film, if not for the viral marketing?

That was rhetorical. I think this was overkill by the Americans on a film that had a massive built in audience.

But it also shows the lengths they will go to to ensure that the audience is aware and engaged with their film.

And this is what you are up against when you try to use nothing but social media to promote your film.

There has to be a middle ground between the Australian Filmmakers who don't take marketing seriously and the Americans who are so cashed up they take it to extremes.

Australian filmmakers have to get this right, for our own survival in the years to come. We need to embrace the regular use of hybrid marketing strategies combining traditional marketing and social media.

In short, we need to make sure we have done everything to ensure people have heard of our films.

Or, you can just rely on becoming a viral hit.

Assuming you feel lucky, of course.

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Friday, December 14, 2012


I can readily admit, I used to enjoy Adam Sandler movies.

'Billy Madison' was funny.

So was the 'Wedding Singer'.

And then, at some point around 'Little Nicky' it started to slide.

'Anger Management' was OK, but that was more Jack Nicholson's help than Sandler.

And then he squeezed out the $90 million 'You Don't Mess With The Zohan'. Good god that was awful.

But he topped that with the absolutely abominable $79 million 'Jack and Jill'.

And of course recently, the universally panned $70 million 'That's My Boy'.

The last two are particularly significant.

'Jack and Jill' was the first movie EVER to win every category at the Razzie's, the anti-oscars that recognises the worst movies and performances. It even won Adam Sandler a worst actress and wost actor gong, because Sandler played both roles of the titular sibling pair.

Sandler has never been a critics darling, but 'Jack and Jill' also scored a terrible 3% on film rating site Rotten Tomatoes. This marks the first real turn against Sandler by his audience.

To be sure, the film still made a healthy profit at the box office, as did the other films I mentioned. In that sense, Sandler didn't have to be too dissuaded.

Until 'That's My Boy'.

'That's My Boy' marks the first of this recent string of films to show poorly at the box office, returning only $58 Million of its $70 million budget.

So what happened?
Did Sandler have his 'jump the shark' moment, officially running out of ideas?

I stumbled upon an interesting analysis which suggests something different.

In their analysis, these guys suggest Sandler has found a way to use product placement and p*nis jokes to guarantee that he will be paid millions of dollars.

You see, Adam Sandler gets paid $25 million a movie up front. That is regardless of how it performs at the box office.

After his golden years, when Sandler made half-decent and commercially successful films, he has a built-in audience, to some degree. These are people who will come and see his films because they are 'Adam Sandler' films.

So, the analysis suggests it is simply a form of mathematics:


For this, Sandler can charge his $25 million producer's fee up front and live happily ever after.

My favourite quote from the article sums it up best:

The $79 million question is, as Jay puts it: "At what point does something like this cease to be able to be called a 'movie.' And I think this is it." "Jack and Jill" cost more than half again as much as last summer's $50 million comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love," which had more stars: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone... and yet, as Mike says, it looks like it was shot over the weekend. Maybe in somebody's garage. Jay says he he has nothing against product placement, but "Jack and Jill" seems to have been designed around the ads: "They literally stop the film to have commercial breaks."

So, is it possible that they are right and that Sandler has decided to stop telling stories and just make a lot money?

Yes, it is absolutely possible.

What you may not realise is that generally a film producer gets paid on the size of the budget. A usual 'Producer's Fee' is 2-5% of the production budget. The bigger the production budget, the bigger your actual fee becomes in dollar terms.

In one of my previous newsletters I told the tale of a feature film producer who I met, who had turned filmmaking into a day job in the worst sense:

This producer talked about finding ways to get your film's budget level higher so you can charge a higher fee and make a living. My argument was that, if all you want is money, there are much more financially stable ways to make a living. If you are not interested in good storytelling, become an accountant.

What this producer talked about is exactly what Sandler is doing on a much larger scale with his films.

Sandler assembles a semi-attractive looking film with enough names attached and crass humour to look like it will draw a crowd. He fills it with product placement, bumps up the budget level and charges his big fee.

From this, he lives very comfortably.

However, where the...


...equation has started to fall down is in the 'Sandler's Audience' part.

You see, if you disrespect the audience long enough, they will stop being your audience.

One could suggest that a film winning EVERY category of the worst film awards is a big step in that direction.

Sadly, I think Sandler is a talented guy.

He was wonderful in 'Funny People', 'Punch Drunk Love' and 'Reign Over Me'.

Unfortunately for Sandler, however, is that the common thread between these better films is that none of them were 'Adam Sandler' films, in the classic sense.

So you have a choice.

Stay humble. Stay true to your storytelling. Never lose sight of your audience.

Judd Apatow is a respected filmmaker and millionaire doing it this way.

Or you can forego good storytelling and try and fleece your audience for as much money as possible.

Just hope you make enough money before your audience turns on you.

Oh, and be sure to keep shelf space aside for your Razzie.

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Sunday, December 02, 2012


I thought I would try something different this week. A change, they say, is as good as a holiday.

So, I revamped the subscription version of my Newsletter. This is the archive, so if you would like to subscribe so you get it hot off the presses, go to

I was also recently interviewed on a Radio Adelaide show 'Behind The Screens' about my work and film issues generally. During the show they asked me to give one rant on something that needed to be said about the Australian Film Industry.

My answer was on marketing, or rather, the lack thereof.

Rather than write a long spiel here, I thought you might like to listen to the short interview instead, which 'Behind The Screens' has posted on their website:

You will need to scroll down a little until you see my face and my interview, ready and waiting to be played.

You can listen to the whole thing, or simply skip to the salient points I make about marketing, from 7:15 to 11:04.


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